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Rediff.com  » Sports » What slump? Nadal begins pursuit of No 10, all seems normal

What slump? Nadal begins pursuit of No 10, all seems normal

May 26, 2015 22:51 IST

Rafael Nadal

Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Eiffel Tower was still standing, the River Seine was flowing away to the sea and the traffic still clogged the Peripherique -- and Rafael Nadal still ruled Roland Garros on Tuesday.

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To all intents and purposes it was just a normal day at the French Open then as Nadal clocked up victory number 67 in western Paris since debuting in 2005.

It felt a little different though as the soon-to-be 29-year-old walked on to Court Phillipe Chatrier -- the rectangle of red clay that has been the stage for his nine titles in a decade of unprecedented domination.

Such has been Nadal's malaise this year, with claycourt defeats piling up from Monte Carlo to Rome, that the Spaniard arrived in Paris only second favourite to claim a record-extending 10th title.

Tasked with providing the first test of Nadal's supposed fragile confidence was French teenager Quentin Halys, a wildcard making his grand slam debut.

He did just that, pushing 14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal hard at times before succumbing 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal often takes time to get fully into his stride at Roland Garros, so Tuesday's one hour 50 minute workout offered few clues as to the health of his game.

Rafael Nadal

Spain's Rafael Nadal plays a backhand. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

His racket was equipped with computer technology meaning he can download statistics later for further analysis.

But the sixth seed will already know that he will have to rediscover his best form to win the title, having been placed in the same half of the draw as World No 1 Novak Djokovic and third seed Andy Murray.

Djokovic, like Nadal had waited two days for his opening round match and was up against Finlands's Jarkko Nieminen later.

If Nadal was nervous, one can only imagine the thoughts going through the mind of 18-year-old Halys.

He dropped his opening service game but was clearly not intimidated, striking the ball with real menace and occasionally having Nadal scrambling around behind the baseline.

Another service game went begging when he served three double-faults but Halys broke Nadal's serve in the sixth game, prompting loud cheers from a crowd who revere the champion but adore a homegrown youngster taking it to one of the greats.

If the result was never in doubt, Nadal still looked relieved when he clinched victory on his first match point.

While professing himself pleased with the level of his game after failing to win a European claycourt event this year, Nadal sounded a little wistful when commenting on a brash and fearless display from Halys -- one of seven teenagers in the draw.

"He risked on every single ball," he said. "You know, that's the way tennis going. Younger, aggressive, hitting the ball stronger and quicker, going for the winners all the time.

"But when the point was playing in normal conditions, I think I played well."

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